Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Picking a President: The Argument Against Experience

My mother waffled back and forth between Clinton and Obama. She ultimately went for Clinton because, she said:

  • She has more experience
  • She doesn't have a penis
The second one isn't a direct quote, but it is the gist of her argument. I'll save my comments on the all-too-prevalent lack o'penis argument for another post. For this post, lets just focus on the experience argument.

The two burning questions are:
  • What constitutes a wide breadth of experience
  • And does size matter (sorry, couldn't help myself)
Clinton's Experience Claims

In the democratic primary, Clinton sold herself as being more experienced and many people (including most of the pundits) seem to have bought it. A few, like Alissa Warters and Scott Kaufman on History News Network, did question the validity of Clinton's claims. But even when democrats were up in arms about Hillary's suggestion that she and McCain had experience and Obama had only a speech, people rarely challenged her.

These days, Clinton is still using her ready on day one argument to try and sway superdelegates. But they would be crazy to pick her based on experience. Is she really going to try and run against McCain based on experience? He's got all the traditional pre-presidential creds.
  • War hero - check
  • Bazillion years senate experience - check
  • Life as a white male people want to have a beer with - check
Judging by what looks to be the outcome of the democratic primary, it appears Clinton's experience argument swayed some older voters like my mom, but didn't do much for the rest of us.

Now comes the real test. Did the experience argument not sway because people don't think experience matters or because of the gaping holes in Clinton's experience claims?

So far, Obama has chosen to counter the experience argument by pointing out that people with a lifetime of experience (like Dick Cheney) are the ones who got us into this mess in the first place. Obama claims it is not Washington experience, but life experience that matters. Even more important, he says, is having good judgment.

Experience, Not so Great After All

Obama's claims have been effective, but they don't explicitly challenge the whole idea of experience being mostly positive and sometimes neutral. I'd like to make a clear argument for the opposite. Often experience is a negative.

It's not a given that people learn from their mistakes. Experience does not always mean wisdom. Sometimes, experience so corrupts a person that any value gained from having seen the mechanisms by which things work is far outweighed by the myopia and emotional baggage that comes with that experience.

Hillary Clinton is a perfect example of someone experience has not been kind to. Her lifetime of experience told her that a president needed to be seen as tough, as able to be Commander in Chief. She spent her political career trying to look tough and ended up running for president at a moment when we were all tired of cowboys (or cowgirls) who want to "obliterate" Iran.

McCain has been corrupted by his experience as well. His experience showed him that, unless he sucked up to Bush and to the right wing of his party, he would lose his bid for the presidency in another barrage of nasty attacks and innuendo like the Rove assault in South Carolina in 2000.

Bill Clinton has been a walking argument against experience. The saxophone playing, smooth as silk, empathizer-in-chief turned into a sad, petty, race-baiting, fact-fudging shell of his former self. (O.k., we all knew about the fact-fudging, but he was so much smoother about it before.)

Getting through life without becoming jaded and compromised by your experience is a difficult thing to do. That is especially true for people in power. Many people see Clinton (and increasingly McCain) as being too compromised. Obama, on the other hand, is right on the precipice. He has enough experience to run an incredible campaign organization, but not so much experience that he seems completely tainted - yet.

Of course, nobody knows how long Obama will be able to keep that mojo going. He too will likely be corrupted by experience some day. Lets hope it takes a few more years.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Myth of the Latino Vote

It seems like pundits do almost nothing but slice and dice the electorate into what they wish were neatly organized and predictable groups - white voters, black voters, old voters, young voters, men, women, extra terrestrials...

I didn't think I could be more disgusted with the whole process until Richard Wolffe showed up on MSNBC talking about how Obama needed to court the Latino vote in Florida. Wolffe suggested that Obama was going to have to go down to Florida "speak their language" and "eat tacos." Eat tacos!!! Argh!!! His statement is ignorant and offensive on so many levels I hardly know where to begin.

Not all "Latinos" eat tacos. I challenge Mr. Wolffe to head over to the Cuban restaurant Puerto Sagua on Miami beach and try to find a taco on the menu.

Not all people from Latin America speak Spanish. There are hundreds of indigenous languages still spoken and some immigrants from Latin America have never spoken Spanish. That doesn't even begin to look at Portuguese, French and various creoles. Even Latinos in the U.S. whose families speak Spanish often don't speak Spanish themselves.

In fact, growing up in South Florida, the majority of my friends barely spoke enough Spanish to converse with their abuelas. As media executives Jeff Valdez and Jose Cancela explain in an interview with Hispanic Magazine, the vast majority of Latinos speak English and only about a quarter are considered "Spanish dominant" - and that's coming from the people trying to sell Spanish language ad space.

The idea of Latinos or Hispanics as a group is a creation of statisticians and advertising executives. If you don't believe me, check out Arlene Dávila's book Latinos Inc. In short, advertising executives convinced advertisers that there was this huge group of "Latinos" out there who all shared the same characteristics and could be advertised to as a group, on Spanish language television of course.

The truth is that a wealthy, white, educated, fervently anti-communist, Cuban revolution-era exile in Miami doesn't have the same political interests as a migrant laborer from Mexico picking strawberries in Watsonville, California.

A Spanish, African, and Taino descended Puerto Rican musician who splits her time between New York and the island does not have the same political interests as a Californio politician whose Spanish descended ancestors have been living on the same land since the 1700s.

"Latinos" covers every conceivable background, history, economic status, and educational level. Trying to figure out how Latinos are going to vote based on the fact that they come from some place in the non-anglo dominated Americas is absurd.

A Cuban friend of mine once told me that she was a Republican because John F. Kennedy screwed up the Bay of Pigs and Cubans have never forgotten that betrayal. Some Mexican Catholics, on the other hand, are known for having pictures of JFK prominently displayed in their homes right next to Jesus and the pope. Are you trying to tell me they are going to vote the same?

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What if the Superdelegates Decide the Election?

Hillary Clinton isn't going anywhere. She is committed to continuing, knowing full well that she will not have as many elected delegates as Obama has. It appears that she is going to try and convince the superdelegates that she is more electable and that they should therefore overrule us.

The pundits are trying to guess what will happen if the superdelegates chose to ignore our wishes. Some have said that democrats will come together and support whichever candidate they put forward. I believe that would be true if it seemed that the candidate won fairly. If the superdelegates decide the election in favor of someone who received less votes and less elected delegates, I for one will not be able to support the democratic party. How can you support a party that doesn't actually believe in democracy?

Republicans always accuse democrats of being elitist. If superdelegates decide our election, the democratic party will prove them right. What could be more elitist than a group of powerful superdelegates deciding that we the people are too stupid to chose the right candidate?

Some time during the Clinton years I became so fed up with the democrats move to the right that I registered as an independent. I re-registered as a democrat to vote for Barack Obama. But I warn you democrats, my support is tentative and conditional. I support you as long as you show some vision, some backbone, and some belief in real democracy. If you give up on us, I for one will give up on you. I doubt that I am alone.

My prediction - If Hillary appears to have stolen the election with a backroom superdelegate deal, many of the young, excited new voters will stay home and be turned away from politics for a long time to come. The number of registered independents will continue to grow while the democratic and republican parties will become more and more mummified.

Anyone know whose running in the Libertarian party?

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Obama's So Called Jewish Problem

Increasingly, pundits are talking about Obama's supposed Jewish problem. This "problem" stems from his unproven "support" for Israel and, after the Revernd Wright broo-ha-ha, his tenuous association-by-association with Nation of Islam leader and gasbag Louis Farrakhan. Recently, McCain has also been hinting that Hamas and Obama are BFF.

The strategy of republicans, and the increasingly republicanesque Ms. Clinton, is to shave off as many voters as possible by appealing to irrational fears and selfish desires. They think playing up the association with Reverend Wright, pointing out that Obama once expressed some human compassion for Palestinians, and trying to associate him with Hamas will peel off enough Jewish votes to bring them wins. In the republican case, and since Jews make up less than 2% of the population, I can only imagine that they are aiming for Florida.

Lets break this one down a bit shall we. The assumptions being made are:

  • All Jews fundamental issue is Israel. Israel is a litmus test that a candidate must pass in order to get our vote - I'm sorry to break it to you all, but Jewish people actually do care about the economy and the environment and the war in Iraq.
  • "Support" for Israel means blind approval of any action the corruption-scandalized Israeli government feels like taking - While it is true that criticism of the Israeli government is taboo in the United States, rational people understand that no government is immune from making mistakes. We Jews have our fair share of irrationals, like anyone else, but most of us know that the Israeli government has made many mistakes and that every criticism is not an attack on Jewish people. In fact, many of us would like to see more criticism of the Israeli government. None of which is to say that Obama has actually criticized the Israeli government - which, I personally wish he would.
  • Polls show that fewer Jews are supporting the democratic candidates this time around and pundits claim that has to do with a perception that republicans are stronger on Israel - I've only known one (admitted) Jewish republican in my life and he said he became a republican because he thought, as a token Jew, he would get farther politically. Now I'm not going to say that all Jews who vote republican are despicable panderers (although I might think it), but there are certainly other reasons why the republican party has been able to siphon off a bit more of the Jewish vote. My personal guess is that the majority of those republican voting jews are old, male, white, wealthy and hawkish about a lot more than Israel. In other words, they are the republican demographic and are as likely to be voting based on the desire to pay less taxes on their wealth or make money on their Haliburton stock as on Israel.
Jews and Israel are not one inseparable entity. It's frankly insulting to speak as though we are. And while we are at it, how about having a Jewish pundit besides Kristol or Dershowitz or some other conservative uber-zionist? How about having a real debate for a change. Bring on Amy Goodman or Norman Finkelstein once in a while.

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